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WHEN OPPORTUNITY PRESENTED ITSELF TO KAWANN SHORT, HE SAID A POLITE NO. LAST winter, after the All--Big Ten defensive tackle helped his Boilermakers win the Little Caesars Bowl, the time came for Short to choose: Should he return for his senior season at Purdue or test the alluring waters of the NFL draft? Short took one look into the eyes of his mother, Yvonne Green, and the decision practically made itself.
"The main reason for me to stay was my mom," explains Short, who arrived in West Lafayette out of Central High in East Chicago, Ind. "My freshman year when she sent me off to school, she kept saying how she couldn't wait for me to walk across the stage during graduation and be so proud of what I accomplished."
With a hug from Mom, Short opted to return to Purdue and wrap up his degree in organizational leadership and supervision. Short is slated to graduate in December, capping what he hopes will be a season as perhaps the top player at his position in the Big Ten.
Despite the obvious appeal of the NFL, Short's decision was "a no-brainer in many ways," says coach Danny Hope. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Short played alongside future All-America defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. Starting the '10 season as a projected third-round NFL pick, Kerrigan played his way into the '11 first round, where he was selected 16th by the Washington Redskins.
Short saw a chance to write his own version of the same story. "Ryan came back and had an outstanding year," Short says. "I'm trying to do the same and gain a better understanding of the game. So I'm just being consistent and getting stronger."
The most difficult part of Short's senior year might be finding room to improve. Last fall he rang up career highs in tackles (54), tackles for loss (17) and sacks (6½). In the 26--23 overtime win over Ohio State on Nov. 12, Short sacked Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller three times.
This fall, under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, Short's focus will be on bolstering his conditioning and consistency. Hope says Short's strength training will be crucial in helping him to fight off the frequent double and even triple teams he will face.
"His body has really been changing the last couple of years," Hope says. "When Kawann came out of high school, he was really big but also a great athlete. But he's really changed his body over the last three years, more so over the last six months." These days the 6' 3" Short tips the scales at 310 pounds, up from 280 when he arrived at Purdue.
Short has worked closely with the school's director of sports performance, Duane Carlisle, doing everything from squats, power cleans and snatches to mobility exercises. "I've progressed every year, as far as being more flexible and more aware on the field, putting my body in better position," Short says. "It's helped me in becoming one of the best-conditioned players in the game"—and has provided a psychological boost late in games.
Short's decision to play another season at Ross-Ade Stadium has already paid dividends: Several early mock drafts project him as a first-round pick in 2013. But the question is whether Short's presence will help an underachieving unit improve enough to reach championship caliber.